Virginia will begin issuing a new driver's license this fall, putting the commonwealth in compliance with a federal law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks designed to tighten security requirements for state-issued identification.
In the next two years, Virginia will replace as many as 2.7 million driver's licenses - a massive undertaking likely to result in longer lines and wait times at Department of Motor Vehicle offices.
Virginia is one of several states scrambling to comply with the 2005 domestic security program known as Real ID, which is intended to prevent identity fraud. The program calls for issuing more secure licenses and identification cards.
While Virginia lawmakers were among the first state officials to back Real ID, officials have struggled over how to implement and pay for the federal requirements that affect the state's 6 million licensed drivers.
Nearly $21 million is being spent to comply with the law and meet an Oct. 1 deadline, including upgrading technology and purchasing new scanning equipment. The state will also increase staffing at the 75 DMV offices in the next two years .
Residents of the state are not required to get Real ID, but starting on Oct. 1, 2020, those who travel by air and visit federal facilities such as military bases will need it or another form of identification such as a U.S. passport or a military ID.
"Some folks will just find that they may not need to get a Real ID and for everyone else we are here and happy to serve," Virginia DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker said.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia are in compliance with the federal mandate so far.
The American Samoa is the only U.S. territory listed as noncompliant and without an extension from Department of Homeland Security. Travelers from there have to present an alternative form of acceptable identification.
Transportation Security Administration agents began enforcing the provision at security checkpoints this year, only accepting licenses from compliant states or those that have been granted extensions. Enforcement at federal buildings and military bases began in 2014.
Under the federal law, states require applicants to have to provide proof of identity and legal U.S. residency to obtain the new ID.
The requirements are intended to prevent identity fraud by establishing minimum standards for driver's licenses and identification cards - a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. Eighteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers obtained state IDs, some fraudulently. Nearly half of the terrorists obtained their driver's licenses in Virginia.
The law was to take effect in 2008, but the program was delayed repeatedly as states called it an unfunded mandate and privacy advocates warned it would create a de facto national ID. But the pleas to the DHS and Congress for modifications to the law and its implementation were unsuccessful.
The compliance process has not been easy nor smooth. Critics of the controversial law say the biggest problem of Real ID is the inconvenience it poses on Americans who have to go through the process of getting a driver's license again.
Some requirements have made visits to DMVs around the country much more difficult, they said. People have struggled with obtaining the documents needed, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and multiple proofs of residency.
In Virginia, for example, current license holders will be required to present two proofs of residency, instead of one, and a Social Security card, instead of just providing the number.
States in the final stage of complying with the federal mandate have experienced long backups at DMVs with customers trying to get a Real ID.
Kansas began issuing the Real ID last fall and reports of long lines for the license have continued through this summer. In California, the average wait time exploded at Department of Motor Vehicle offices beginning in January when the state started issuing the enhanced ID cards. Some residents reported spending upwards of seven hours to get the new ID. In Indiana, divorced women have complained about the documentation needed to get the Real ID. Anyone who has changed their name, needs to provide documentation of that change.
Pennsylvania will start issuing Real ID licenses next spring; Maine next summer; and Oregon won't start issuing Real ID cards until mid-2020.
"No matter the state, jurisdiction, or locality nothing frustrates motorists or residents more than having to wait in line down at the DMV," said Victoria Stark, AAA Mid-Atlantic retail manager, in Northern Virginia.
Virginia transportation officials are already urging license holders to gather up the documentation they will need to obtain the new ID so they can avoid multiple DMV visits. Unless their license is due for renewal, officials are urging customers to wait a few months to get the Real ID.
"You don't have to come in to get one right away unless you want to. You have until October of 2020, until those federal regulations take effect," Brubaker said. "Think about coming in mid-2019 when we think that demand may start to decrease."